My Running Origin Story OR How I ran the 2013 runDisney Walt Disney World Half Marathon

We have #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday, but no catchy hashtag for taking things back on a Saturday, so we’ll just label this as a random blast from the past. This week runDisney announced that the 2021 Marathon and Princess weekends, normally held in January and February, will now be virtual. While I wasn’t signed up for either, I am in some runDisney Facebook groups and have seen the disappointment of others who were holding out hope that they would be live. Seeing comments from those who had plans to run their first half made me think about my first half, which was run during the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, so I thought I would share my running and racing origin story with you. (Go grab some popcorn, you will be here for a while. Got it? Good.)

To start, I first need to take you back to the 2012 WDW Marathon weekend. My sister, who up until this point had not been a runner, decided she wanted to run a Disney half marathon. Someone put the bug in her ear and she thought, “Why not?” so she signed up. Being in early January, I was able to get off of work, my brother was on break from school, and my dad was able to snag his time share condo in Florida the week of the race, so we decided to make it a family vacation and come cheer her on. Now, up until this point, my perception of any race over 5k was that they were for “serious runners”. You know, those who ran track or cross country in high school, maybe athletic soccer players who easily ran up and down the field, but certainly not your average, everyday person. Now, I had no doubt my sister would finish this race, but it still felt like it was outside of what I would ever be capable of. I mean, I had just started working out semi-regularly a year or two before, mostly walking on the treadmill during my dinner break at work and when that became easy I started throwing in some run intervals (looking back they were basically sprint intervals, no wonder running felt hard). I had tried Couch to 5k several times and it never stuck. It got too hard too fast and figured I would never be a “real” runner and left it at that. After all, growing up I was known for being involved in music and dance, not sports. But watching my sister run, combining normal race day magic with Disney magic, and seeing people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities running that half marathon (plus suddenly being aware that they give out pretty, shiny medals at the end), the seed was officially planted.

During the summer of 2012 I decided to give this whole running thing another shot. I started up C25k (for about the 8th time) and got to the point that I could run a whole mile without walking. Someone told me to think “jog” not “run” and slow down so I could run further. It seems so simple now, but that thought had never crossed my mind and is probably why the program had always failed me before. I think I was maybe in week 6 or 7 of the program and thought, “Well this is going fairly well. If I just keep this up getting to the half distance by January should be no problem.” (Oh, how I laugh at myself now!) But at that point the confidence was starting to grow, the itch to get the shiny bling was in my head, and the price of the race was going up soon (this was when Disney races took months to sell out, not hours) so I made a decision – I was in.

Yep, the very first race I ever signed up for was a half marathon (go big or go home?).

I knew nothing about running, but the Jeff Galloway runDisney training plans taught me about the run/walk method and somewhere along the line that kind of stuck. I actually don’t have a lot of data to look back on other than overall mileage because I was using a Nike+iPod to track my runs, so no GPS (plus when Nike+ transitioned to the Nike Run app they lost a lot of my notes) and a cheap $10 watch from Walmart to keep track of the interval times. Vaguely. I didn’t actually set it to beep or anything, I just glanced down at the watch every so often. I did roughly 5:00/2:00 intervals, but the walk often got longer and the run got shorter the longer the run distance because I would fall apart. Again, I knew nothing about running and was relying on the Runner’s World forums for information, which was unfortunate because there were several speedier runners there who obviously had never been back of the pack. They basically said that anything slower than a 12 minute mile wasn’t even running and you didn’t need fuel for a half. So I’m going to make this clear to anyone new to running who might be reading this – if you are a slower runner and it takes you 2 to 3 hours to run a half, it would not be unusual to fuel. You may not need it, but many do.

I’m not sure I slept much the night before the race. First of all, for a Disney race you basically have to wake up by 2:30am so you can get to the race and be in the corrals by 4am and the race starts at 5am, so you are kind of guaranteed to be short-changed on sleep. Second of all, I was nervous. The longest I had run was 10 miles which, while normal for many beginner training plans, did not give me confidence that I could cover an additional 3 miles and be within the 3:30 time limit. My training runs had all been about a 15 minute mile, just under the cutoff time. I just wanted to finish and I was scared of the balloon ladies. I had a big case of imposter syndrome but desperately wanted to hush that voice and prove to myself that I could actually do this. I had my normal pre-run breakfast of Rice Chex, grabbed a banana, and off we went to Disney.

Since my family was with me I hung out with them in the Friends & Family area until they started making last calls to head to the corrals. They wished me luck and told me they would see me on the course.

Me with my siblings. Clearly someone had more of a game face than I did!

I hit the port-o-potties and then headed with the large mass of people to the start line. The butterflies in my stomach were strong, but I started talking with some people around me who were also running their first half, and we all agreed that we could walk a 16 minute mile if it came down to it and therefore we would all be fine. In just a few hours we would all be half marathoners! It made me feel better others had the same fears I did.

Now, Disney knows how to do races right and make every runner feel special. They have loud music playing at the start, lights everywhere, an MC pumping up the crowd, and they set off fireworks for every single corral start. I think I was ruined for future races who care less about their back of the pack runners. I was in one of the last corrals, so it took a while before I started, but once I got to that start line it was game time. There was only one glitch – right as I crossed the start line, my stomach started growling. When I planned breakfast I failed to take into account the time between then and race start. Oops. Oh well. Nothing I can do about that now. Here we go!

For the first part of the race you run on closed Disney highways. Somewhere around miles 10 or 11ish also runs down that highway, but in the other direction, so when you are in the later corrals, you actually tend to see the winners coming back for their last few miles. I cheered for them as others around me were doing, but as we continued I started doing the math. How the heck were they about to finish when I was still in my first two miles?! I couldn’t comprehend the speed that would take and thought I must have not looked at the map correctly and that must not actually be mile 10 (it was).

The first few miles of the race is magical. There’s a charge of excitement in the air and Disney has on course entertainment and character stops throughout the race. I didn’t plan on stopping as I was so afraid of missing the cutoff, but there was still so much to see. It was also dark. Remember that cheap watch I was using for intervals that didn’t beep at me? Yeah, I had to hit a button to light it up and got so amped up on race day adrenaline that I blew through a walk interval or two. This happened quite a bit in the first 5k or so. I also had no sense of pacing since all of my run data was on the iPod nano clipped to my waistband. I remember running in to Magic Kingdom, which is around the 10k mark and finally checking my iPod. I don’t remember what the elapsed time was, but I remember being highly surprised and ecstatic about how fast I was going (again, I laugh at myself when I think about it – being that far ahead of schedule is now an indicator to SLOW DOWN if I don’t want to crash and burn). I was super excited to run through the castle, but they had race photographers right on the other side and everyone wants their picture in front of the castle so it clogged up the space and we came to a complete standstill (Disney has since moved the photographers to prevent this). I managed to start running right when I got to the other side and as I tried to weave around others, a race photographer managed to snap one of my all time favorite race photos.

After the Magic Kingdom we head to backstage areas and eventually back to highway again. That’s when things started going awry. Around mile 7 I started fading. My sister had given me a Hammer gel before the race and I felt like then was a good time to use it (I know, nothing new on race day, but what did I know? Luckily I had no issues). It did help perk me up for about another mile, but then I just crumbled. Fast. My hamstrings starting really aching and I remember jumping off to the side of the road often from that point on to stretch them out. Meanwhile, while I was crumbling, my family was off on an adventure finding donuts so monstrously large they felt the need to document it. When this race comes up in conversation they still talk about that donut.

Okay, it is a pretty large donut.

At mile 9 I was rethinking all of my life choices that brought me to this moment. My intervals were out the window. I hurt so badly that I could actually feel the difference between walk muscles and run muscles and was switching it up just to give each a small break. At this point, it was all about survival. I wanted to punch the Toy Story army man at mile 9.5 when he yelled at me to run when I was walking up the on ramp (it’s the one evil hill in a Disney race – on ramps are banked way more than you think they are and are weird to run on). When I was approaching mile 10 I remember feeling some relief and pumping myself up. I mean, I was in double digits! What’s 3 more miles? That though abruptly came crashing down when someone next to me on the course was pumping up their friend saying, “Only a 5k left!” While most would find this encouraging, it put things into perspective for me and I did not like what I saw. I had raced a 5k while training and knew that on fresh legs I raced a 5k in 35 minutes. I was barely moving forward now. I was going to be on the course for probably just under another hour. I. wanted. to. cry. Actually, in my late race photos, I put my head down every time I saw a photographer so the brim of my hat covered my face because I felt like if someone actually saw me, they were going to see I was upset and ask me if I was okay and if that happened, I was going to actually cry. If I started crying, I knew I wasn’t going to finish the race, so I pretended I was in this bubble and no one else could see me.

Around mile 12 I was so happy to see the giant golf ball that is Epcot. I knew the race ended in Epcot, so I was almost there! You run “around the world” (or, part of it) before heading in to Tomorrow Land and then back out to the parking lot where the finish is. When I saw that finish line, I booked it with all the energy I had left (which wasn’t much). When I crossed that finish line, I wanted to sit down. I thought it cruel that they make you keep walking to get all of your post race goodies and back to the Friends and Family area. There should be shuttles. But I finally had a shiny medal of my own. I had done it. After 3 hours and 11 minutes, I was officially a half marathoner.

Looking back, I’m honestly surprised I didn’t hurt myself. In the 12 weeks leading up to the race I ran less than 100 miles total and only ran about 2 days per week, one of which was my long run. My long run tired me out (to which I now say, “Duh! I didn’t have a base and my weekly mileage wasn’t supporting that kind of ramp up.”) so I often wasn’t recovered until mid-week. I was super grumpy immediately after the race and I know I went hypoglycemic from lack of fueling. I felt better after several bowls of ice cream. I went out way too fast and skipped too many of my walk breaks in the early miles which came back to haunt me later on. But despite hurting and being miserable for part of the race, something stuck. I’ve since run over 60 races, 10 of them being half marathons, and I’m itching to get out there again as soon as COVID lets us do so.

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Training Log: August 31st – September 13th

I saw this idea of training log posts over on the Salty Running blog and thought it would be a fun idea to do (especially since I’ve actually been keeping consistent with training this year!). I love following along with people’s training. I can get oddly invested in other people and like seeing if they are able to hit their goal after putting in the hard work or seeing what they are still capable of when things go wrong. I think seeing your training compiled together every few weeks helps to give a better overview of the good and the bad and makes you realize one missed or bad workout can be just that – one workout. After a summer of gross, humid running (and feeling like I was seeing zero progress despite being more consistent than I ever have in my life), my fitness finally decided to make an appearance all at once this month. Like, there was no linear progression here, my heart rate just all of the sudden dropped one day and I noticed my runs felt easier. While we have certainly had some better weather recently, several of my runs have still been in high humidity and pretty warm conditions, so I can’t contribute it just to the weather. Whatever the reason, not feeling like I’m dying by the end of the run? I’ll take it!

Monday, August 31st: Yoga with Adriene – Yoga for Transitions + 30 min of my Back, Bicep, and Core strength set

Tuesday, September 1st: Morning: 45 min run/walk (2:00/1:00), ending with 5 strides. Evening: 1 hour of yoga at my local YMCA. While I know strides are about leg turnover and leg strength more than speed, I’ve been playing a game with myself all summer to see how long it would take for my top speed to tip past 7:xx to 6:xx. For the second time, my top speed was 7:00 on the dot. Ah, to see a 6 as the first number. But I’m close! Distance: 3.7 miles; Average pace: 15:46; Average HR: 136.

Wednesday, September 2nd: 45 min run/walk (2:00/1:00) + 5 strides was on the plan, but my legs were feeling super heavy and I had to constantly hype myself up to keep myself going so I ended up skipping the strides. Plus the humidity was back. Distance: 2.7 miles; Avg pace: 16:38; Avg HR: 131.

Thursday, September 3rd: Rest day. It was supposed to be a strength training day, but it’s the first week of my semester and I’m still transitioning to a new schedule and really didn’t feel like working out. So I didn’t.

Friday, September 4th: One of my goals is to get back to running without the run/walk intervals, so I’ve been playing with extending out my run interval and shortening the walk all summer. This run I ran 3:00/0:40 instead of my normal 2:00/1:00. The run itself felt pretty good, but my legs had no oomph when it came to my strides. Distance: 4 miles; Avg pace: 15:49; Avg HR: 137.

Saturday, September 5th: Long run/walk + 5 strides. I usually run my long runs on Sunday, but this is my weekend to work at the ER and it throws me off my normal sleep schedule enough that I get really tired and tend to skip workouts or have really bad workouts when I try to push through, so I asked my coach to move my long sun to Saturday so I had a hope of actually running it. This weekend it worked in my favor because the temp dropped 10* and the dew point dropped 20* from yesterday, so the weather was absolutely GORGEOUS. I can’t even tell you the last time I was able to stay in Zone 2 HR for the entirety of my long run, so something is obviously starting to click! Plus, I finally saw a 6:xx for my top speed during my strides! At the end of my long run! My morning oatmeal didn’t sit well though and I felt queasy through the first half of the run. Weird. Distance: 6.1 miles; Avg pace: 15:49; Avg HR: 138.

Sunday, September 6th: Rest day, although I took a short walk around lunch time. I needed it. For some reason I’m feeling more wiped out that normal from working.

Week 1: 4 runs for 16.5 miles (4 hours 23 min); 1 strength session (27 min); 2 yoga sessions (1 hour 22 min). Total time: 6 hours 13 min.

Monday, September 7th: 30 min Chest, Shoulder, and Bicep strength set. Still feeling tired so I dropped the weights a bit today – still felt kind of tough.

Tuesday, September 8th: Supposed to be a 45 min easy run/walk with 5 pick-ups thrown in to the middle 15 minutes, but I was feeling so wiped out from working the weekend and holiday that I threw the entire plan away and literally went out with no agenda and just ran until I felt like stopping. I was SHOCKED at how low my HR stayed. Distance: 2.3 miles; Avg pace: 16:05; Avg HR: 127.

Wednesday, September 9th: 40 min Back, Bicep, and Core strength routine.

Thursday, September 10th: Supposed to be a 45 min easy run/walk, but I threw in the pick-ups I skipped on Tuesday. I had school work I really wanted to get done first thing in the morning, so this got pushed to mid-day, which may not have been the smartest because then it was 80* with a 76* dew point. Ick. But the pick-ups felt so much smoother than they did the last time I did pick-ups (which I think was in July?). Progress! Distance: 3.05 miles; Avg pace: 15:49; Avg HR: 142.

Friday, September 11th: 3 miles with increased intervals (3:00/0:30) + 5 strides. I pushed my run to the evening. I actually really like evening runs (so long as I can keep my motivation throughout the day to actually get out). I tend to have a lower HR and everything feels smoother from being warmed up and well fed throughout the day. The dew point also dropped throughout the day, so it was actually better running conditions in the evening. Although when you are used to 1:00 walk intervals, that 0:30 sure does end quickly! However, I almost felt like I didn’t need the intervals. I was also supposed to do a strength workout, but I skipped it (can you tell I don’t really like doing strength work?) Distance: 3.95 miles; Avg pace: 15:49; Avg HR: 141.

Saturday, September 12th: Rest day.

Sunday, September 13th: Supposed to be my normal 5 mile long run/walk + strides, but this did not go well. I once again felt really queasy, so I’m guessing it’s the Picky Bar Performance Oatmeal I ate, since I ate the same flavor last week too (which is weird – I’ve had the apple flavor several times with zero issues, but apparently the trail mix flavor doesn’t sit right with me…but it’s so yummy!). This run felt so much harder than the rest of my week and I had to use every mental trick I know of to get as far as I did. Skipped the strides. Distance: 4.3 miles; Avg pace: 16:05; Avg HR: 139.

Week 2: 4 runs for 13.6 miles (3 hours 37 min); 2 strength sessions (58 min); Total time: 4 hours 35 min.

While there were a couple of bad runs and several skipped strength sessions, I’m happy overall with how these weeks went. My semester started September 1st and the transition to a new schedule usually takes some time and energy until it runs smoothly as I figure out how things work best during the day/week. Working my weekend and Labor Day at the ER threw a wrench in things as I was so wiped out afterwards that not only my workouts, but my school stuff suffered as well. I’m trying really hard this semester to protect my weekends (meaning get schoolwork and assistantship work done during the week so I actually have a weekend off) but I just wasn’t able to do that this week with the holiday cutting my week short. I ended up pushing my asynchronous stats class lectures to the weekend and then had a panic attack/full blown meltdown this past Sunday night when I realized it was going to be way more technical of a class than I anticipated and it felt way over my head. I effectively shut down for the rest of the night after that (hence why it’s taken so long to get this post finished). I need the credits though and don’t have many other options, so after talking with my advisor I’ve walked back off the panic and realized it is going to take a lot more work (and a lot of Googling/YouTubing), it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone, but it is within my capabilities. As I’ve learned with running, “I can do hard things.” I hope.

So what do you think? Do you like following other people’s training logs? I kind of like 2 week stretches, but with nothing I’m actively training for (thanks, 2020) it could get repetitive, so we’ll see how often I post.

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Why, hello there!

Hello, world, I have arrived! It has certainly taken me long enough to get here. I’ve thought about starting a blog several times over the years but never pulled the trigger. I’m pretty sure it was even my New Year’s resolution to start a blog in 2015 (better late than never?). I started to think about it again earlier this summer, deciding to make it one of my “pandemic projects”, but again had a failure to launch. At the time I blamed it on being a little brain-fried. I am currently a graduate student and between suddenly being thrown in to a virtual schooling environment in the spring (thanks, COVID), lots of written assignments now that we were virtual, dealing with pandemic emotions, regular anxiety about school and life, applying to my doctoral program, and then spending the summer writing a manuscript for publication for the research I’m involved in, I thought my brain just didn’t have the bandwidth to then devote to more writing, even if it was of a different, more personal, creative nature. But then I realized I was struggling with the manuscript as well. Writing is something that has always come fairly naturally to me and is something I enjoy doing, so what was the issue?

Sometime mid-summer I started to figure it out. As my default, I tend to learn towards being more outcome oriented rather than process focused. I think about the big picture, the end product, the finished result. But to get to that end result, you first have to start and it’s often a little messy along the way. I found myself getting so hung up on the end product, the final published paper, that I was getting overwhelmed and couldn’t even start. I was worrying whether or not what I was writing was “the right thing” and I didn’t give myself the room to make mistakes, delete, rewrite…if it wasn’t going to be fairly great from the start then how could I have a great end product? If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic it’s that people like to throw science under the bus for any infraction (even made up ones) so if I don’t want my paper to get chewed up and spit out it has to be perfect, right? (Perfectionist, who, me?) Wrong. I was finally able to start focusing on the writing process instead of what the end product was going to look like. By breaking the paper up in to smaller components and giving myself more grace as I went through the process, I’ve managed to almost complete my manuscript (or at least a well written first draft) but I realized I actually do this a lot with other things in my life too. For instance, starting a blog. I was subconsciously getting hung up on all of the decisions that come with starting something new (in this case, what is the theme, what do I want it to look like, what topics am I going to write about) that I just couldn’t figure out how to take the first step. I can see it as it should be, but I can’t always see how to get there.

I realized today how silly this is, especially in this case as it’s just a blog. Something I’m doing for fun. It’s not like I can’t edit and make changes along the way (but really that’s true for most things in life). So something for me to remember: Don’t be afraid to take a step just because you aren’t sure if it’s the “right” direction. Taking the first step builds momentum. Standing still does not.

So here it is. My blog. It will definitely evolve over time and more changes will be coming soon, but it’s a start. As you can probably guess from the name, it’s a lifestyle blog with a heavy focus on my running adventures and training, but will also include other life adventures and probably health and wellness topics too (as that is what I am going to school for).

With that, I will leave you a quote from someone who always seemed to jump in to everything with confidence:

“Sometimes you have to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.”

– Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus series

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